Sides sparred Friday night over two ballot measures that have made national waves - one, aiming to socialize Colorado's health insurance industry and the other, legalizing lethal prescriptions for terminal patients.
The debate, held on the Colorado College campus, was part of The Gazette's Community Conversations as ballots arrived in voters' mailboxes and each side angled to make a final pitch to voters. It was moderated by senior political correspondent Joey Bunch.
Here are some highlights:
The first debate addressed Proposition 106, a measure that would make Colorado one of just a handful of states that allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients. Colorado's proposal, called the Medical Aid in Dying initiative, would apply to people with six months or less to live and is based on a nearly 20-year-old Oregon law.
It was tackled by state Sen. Mike Merrifield, a Democrat, and state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Republican.
- "Proposition 106 takes government out of these personal decisions and allows patients to make their own choices about their life, based on their health with their family's input and their personal religious beliefs."
- He stressed that while the bill would provide options, they are not options that would be taken lightly. "This does not require any doctor to prescribe the medication if he or she doesn't wish to ... it is an option."
- Merrifield stressed that there were enough safeguards to prevent abuse or misuse of the law. "Proposition 106 provides us the protections we need to ensure quality care and a full range of options when individuals in our state face terminal illness."
- "We need to protect the most vulnerable in society."
- He emphasized that Medical Aid in Dying would pressure doctors to violate their oath to "do no harm." "You can't opt out of helping someone. If they want to die, the doctor's got to help them die, and there's no religious opt-out."
- Klingenschmitt said his opposition to "self-suicide" aligns with pro-life beliefs and the law "is not a compassionate response" for the terminally ill.
The second debate addressed Amendment 69, which aims to create a nearly universal health-care system that would insure everyone currently covered under Colorado's Medicaid program and private health insurance plans. Funding for the program would come from a 10 percent payroll tax and federal funding that currently goes to Medicaid and the state's health insurance exchange. Medicare, Tricare and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries would keep their coverage, but would still have to help pay for ColoradoCare.
Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton debated author and health-care advocate T.R. Reid.
- It's going to cover everybody," he said, adding that ColoradoCare wouldn't be free to residents, but "vote yes, it costs less."
- He assailed the current health insurance system, which is largely controlled by for-profit companies. He pointed to ColoradoCare's operating structure as a reason voters would have more say in their health insurance. "With ColoradoCare, you pick the board."
- He said insurers will continue to raise premiums and that "the current system is going to bankrupt our state." "Health care is not free - in fact, it's going to cost a tax of $25 billion ... this year, we're paying $30 billion for health insurance premiums."
- "This would be an economic disaster for the state of Colorado," he said, adding that "there's an old adage that if something sounds to good to be true, it probably is."
- He repeated a well-worn argument by opponents who say ColoradoCare is an ill-conceived fix to the state's current health insurance market - beginning with how it is not likely financially sustainable.
- "I am not a defender of the current system of health care in America, but I can tell you because I've seen it, there is bipartisan consensus in this state ... to audit our health exchange and figure out what our options are. I would rather have that be the path forward ... than to take a car and drive it off a cliff."
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